We're in the Book of Exodus, and we're going to think this evening about God's promise to rescue his people, his calling of Moses who he chose to use to bring about that rescue, and his call on our lives too.
First let me set the scene, to put this call of Moses into context. It's about 1500 years before Christ, and the people of Israel are in miserable slavery in Egypt. But what about now? What kind of slavery is humanity in now? The Bible is clear: humanity is in slavery to sin, Satan and death.
Moses is an Israelite but grew up in the Egyptian court. As a young man, rather like some dissident student under an oppressive regime, he seems to have taken it upon himself to champion his people. He kills an Egyptian, is rejected by two Israelites when he tries to break up a fight and flees the country because he's afraid his murdering will be reported. He seems to be a disillusioned, broken man. He becomes a shepherd, and lives quietly in that way for many years. Then, as this passage tells, he has a life changing encounter with God. And God calls him to go and bring his people out of slavery.
Now there are two themes here, like the warp and woof of a woven cloth. Firstly there's the Lord's firm, unshakeable plan to rescue his people Israel from slavery, using Moses. Secondly, there's the reaction of Moses to that plan, which is far from firm and unshakeable.
When we look at Moses and his responses to God's call, it's a bit like looking in a mirror. Because what we see is what are so often our own responses to the call of Christ. That's not surprising because the God we know is the same God who spoke to Moses, and we share his frail humanity.
First, then, God meets with Moses.
This is Exodus 3.1-6. His day begins like thousands of ordinary days before, looking for fresh pasture for the sheep. But then Moses strays onto holy ground, he sees the burning bush that doesn't burn up, and God speaks to him. God meets with him.
In what ways has God come and met with you? And how has that changed your life? Because that's where it all begins for us as well - when we meet God in Christ. When that happens our lives take on a completely new dimension. Even all the ordinary things in life become part of our eternal life in Jesus. Everything becomes new.
We don't see burning bushes - but we have a more glorious vision, which is the cross and the resurrection of Jesus and the fire of Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit, a fire which doesn't burn up. That's the beginning of our relationship with God, when we believe in the good news. That's the beginning of real prayer – us talking to God – just as Moses' vision signalled the start of his relationship with the Lord.
Secondly, God calls Moses.
He has work for Moses to do. In Exodus 3.7-10 God says that he's seen the misery of his people. He's heard their cries. He cares about their suffering. So he's come down to bring them out of slavery, into the promised land. "Come, " he says to Moses, "I will send you to Pharoah that you may bring my people … out of Egypt."
What does God call his people to do today? We too when we come to Christ get caught up in God's call. We're sent to a world in slavery. And our call is twofold. It is to love. In John 13:34 Jesus says:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."
Then our call is to make disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:19-20.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
These are not separate things, of course. Loving people has to include sharing with them the opportunity to find eternal life in Christ. But that's our general, collective call. I wonder, do you know what God's particular call to you is? God's call to us is worked out in a million different ways according to the circumstances of each one of us.
And I wonder if we react as Moses did. He comes up with a series of objections. There's no apparent logical connection between them. Some are genuine, others are contrived. As each objection comes up God meets it fully – more than fully – but then back comes another objection from Moses. One commentator says:
"The picture emerges of one person trying to reason with another who is throwing up arguments, but basically whose will, not mind, is resisting the call." (Brevard Childs, 'The Book of Exodus')
Moses has a gut reaction to run as fast as he can in the opposite direction. Often there seems to be an underlying fear within him, that springs from his past experience and the breaking down of all his hopes. His gut rejects the call, and his mind leaps about looking for a way out.
In contrast, God just steadily keeps going. Answering, reassuring, moving along one track towards his purpose. He doesn't just ride over Moses and crush him. But neither is he deflected.
Moses raises five objections – five excuses. Let's take a look at them.
Moses' makes his first excuse there in 3.11.
"But Moses said to God, 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?'"
"Who am I?" says Moses. Moses was hot-headed in his youth, but now he's learnt to distrust himself thoroughly. He sees this gaping chasm between his own ability and the immense task the Lord has put before him. He's now just a shepherd. That's all he's known for years. So this is an understandable first reaction. Maybe a good deal better than if he'd said: "Sure, I can do that - I was wondering when you'd ask."
But there are two kinds of self-distrust. One kind leads to trust in God and dependence on him. The Lord wants that in us. But the other kind is of a different quality. It leads to spiritual paralysis and an unwillingness to do anything for God. That's not a spiritual virtue at all. It springs from unbelief. So how do we react to God's call? In what ways do you feel inadequate for God's work?
Well, God gives Moses an assurance and a sign. Exodus 3.12:
"[God] said, 'But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.'"
That assurance is the certainty of his presence. "I will be with you". That, of course, is what counts. Neither Moses' inability nor ours counts for anything when God is with us. "The sign" seems to refer both to the burning bush and to the future, when God's freed people will worship him on that same mountain. Moses' experience of the burning bush is like a foretaste of the success of God's rescue plan. It is evidence of the Lord's power and holiness and it's a kind of guarantee of God's ability to do what he promises.
That's all that Moses needs to know, if he takes God at his word. But he doesn't. Instead …
Moses makes his second excuse.
This is Exodus 3.13-22. Here's 3.13:
"Then Moses said to God, 'If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you", and they ask me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to them?'"
In other words: "OK then, who are you? What do I say to them?" Now I wonder if that's a genuine question. Does he really need more information for the Israelites? Or is Moses using the possibility of being questioned by them as a way of expressing his own hidden doubts about God?
What about us? Do we doubt that we know enough about God to be his ambassadors? Don't you think that at times we're inclined to say to the Lord that we would speak, we would serve, we would witness - but we don't really feel we know him well enough yet. People will ask all sorts of awkward questions. We'll let him down. And he doesn't want that, does he, so we'll sit tight and keep quiet.
Again God answers patiently. Exodus 3.14:
"God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' And he said, 'Say this to the people of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you."'"
That's a name that reverberates throughout Scripture. Like in Revelation 1:8:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
And Jesus said:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life". (John 14.7)
That should be enough for Moses, and for the Israelites, and for us. How dare we doubt God's Word and God's promise? And we don't need to know everything. We don't need our curiosity satisfied. We are to trust the Lord, on the basis of what he's already shown to us of himself.
Then, in Exodus 3.15-22, again God urges Moses into action and assures him of success. The people will believe, the King's heart will be hardened, the Egyptians will be plagued, the Israelites will be delivered and the Egyptians plundered. There will be obstacles, but they'll all be overcome. That could hardly be clearer. God will do it. But what's the reaction?
Moses makes his third excuse.
Take a look at 4.1:
"Then Moses answered, 'But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, "The Lord did not appear to you."'"
This really jars now because the Lord has just said the people will believe – at the start of verse 18:
"And they [the elders of Israel] will listen to your voice."
It's really Moses' doubts that are surfacing. And again I find that very familiar. Do we make excuses simply to avoid God's call? "Yes Lord, but what if they don't want me? What if I tell them something about you, tell them a little of what you've done for me, and they take no notice? What if they laugh? What if they just ignore it?"
Well we, as New Testament believers, have a promise of the power of the gospel to rest on. Romans 1:16:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
Moses is again given a series of signs. They're there in Exodus 4.2-9. First of all the staff that becomes a snake; then the hand that becomes leprous and then is restored. And thirdly the water from the Nile that becomes blood on the ground. Don't you think that should settle it for Moses? But yet again Moses kicks against what the Lord is saying. And …
Moses makes his fourth excuse.
Look on to Exodus 4.10:
"But Moses said to the LORD, 'Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.'"
This is becoming a more unsophisticated, naked kind of resistance. But it's not just Moses, is it? How valid are our own excuses? Moses is almost going full circle, dragging up his own inadequacies again. So the Lord questions Moses. Exodus 4.11:
"Then the LORD said to him, 'Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?'"
These are straightforward questions with an obvious answer. But just in case Moses misses the obvious point, God supplies the answer as well:
"Is it not I, the LORD?"
Moses' hesitations about himself must surely evaporate before the reality of the Lord, the Creator God. And there is another command, and another promise. Exodus 4.12:
"Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak."
There is here an assurance that goes beyond even what the Lord has given up to this point. What more could Moses ask for? The truth is that at this point Moses has run out of excuses.
So what does he do? Does he now obey? No.
Moses makes his final excuse.
So now we come to the straight cop-out. No further objections come to Moses' mind, however much he tries to drag something out. So his cover is blown. He's being trying to create this smokescreen of seemingly rational objections to God's scheme. But God has waved the smokescreen aside, and now the truth about Moses' attitude is exposed. Exodus 4.13:
"But [Moses] said, 'O my Lord, please send someone else.'"
He is diffident and desperate, and his gut reaction spills out. He just doesn't want to go. How does God respond? Well, if I can say this reverently, the response Moses gets is God's own gut reaction: anger. Exodus 4.14:
"Then the anger of the Lord was kindled [burned] against Moses …"
But God's anger isn't like our anger. He doesn't begin to lash out indiscriminately. He actually makes a concession to Moses. He appoints Aaron, Moses' brother, to be Moses' spokesman. The responsibility remains with Moses. Moses is to decide what will be said. The leadership must come from him. But Aaron will speak.
Whatever Christ asks you to do, and wherever he asks you to go, are you willing to obey? God is patient with us. Extraordinarily patient. But not endlessly patient. The time comes when his patience has run its course. No more delaying tactics will be tolerated.
But even at this point, the Lord is concerned to encourage Moses in the task that lies before him. So he reminds Moses that he is still a vehicle of God's power. Verse 17:
"And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs."
The staff that Moses carries is not a magic wand. It doesn't have any inherent power independent of God. That stick is a reminder to Moses as he carries it that he himself is like a staff in the hand of God. God is going to use him to do extraordinary things. But the power is with God, not with Moses.
Moses is right about one thing. He is nothing apart from God. What he's been so stubborn and slow in learning is this: God is with him. God has commanded him and sent him. God has promised to equip him and guide him in whatever way he needs. And what God says, happens.
The time has come for Moses to stop resisting God. And that, finally, is what he does.
"So Moses took his wife and his sons and put them on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand."
And that, of course, is just the beginning of Moses' obedience. Now he'll be useful to God, as the Lord unfolds his great plan of salvation.
That plan reached down through one and a half millennia to the first coming of Christ. It continued its world-wide spread for another two millennia until it reached you and me. And it will continue on, spreading into every corner of the earth, until that day when Christ returns again.
And of course it's not just Moses who has a part to play in this great plan. The Lord has called you and me as well. His method with us is different. No burning bush. Instead, there's the gospel of Christ, and hearts that burn within us as we hear the Word of God, calling us to follow Christ and lay down our lives in his service.
What are the excuses that well up within you at the prospect of being one of Christ's ambassadors? Do you feel inadequate? Do you think that you don't know God well enough so you wouldn't have the answers to all the questions? Are you afraid of how people will react? Do you think that you're slow of speech and tongue, and that you just won't be able to find the right words to do justice to the gospel?
Well join the gang. And remember, we're not alone. Moses, who was one of the most pivotal figures in the entire history of God's people, felt the same. So we need to learn the lesson that he had to learn. All of those reasons not to go and all of those reasons to keep quiet amount to nothing in the face of one great command and one great promise of Jesus to us, who belong to him:
"Go … and make disciples of all nations, … And … I am with you always, to the end of the age."